Animals Art Natural Science

Audubon’s fake species

John James Audubon is best known for his Birds of America; if you think you don’t know it, you do:

Tricoloured Heron

But it turns out that in his younger days he made up almost 30 species to prank a fellow naturalist.

During their visit, though, Audubon fed Rafinesque descriptions of American creatures, including 11 species of fish that never really existed. Rafinesque duly jotted them down in his notebook and later proffered those descriptions as evidence of new species. For 50 or so years, those 11 fish remained in the scientific record as real species, despite their very unusual features, including bulletproof (!) scales.

When he figured out that Rafinesque had also been naming mammals based on his time with Audubon, he started worrying.

In the descriptions he gave to Rafinesque, some of these animals had very odd features. The “three-striped mole rat” was attributed to a genus that had no business being in North America. The “white-stripe lemming” carried its young on its back, despite have teats on its chest. The brindled stamiter had its cheek pouches, usually an interior feature, on the outside.

What japes!


The “Brindled Stamiter”

Art Books

Marks of Genius

An exhibition looking at ways in which attitudes towards genius are manifested in a number of remarkable books and manuscripts, and exploring how works of genius found in a university library can be acquired, collected and read.

It opened with a few references to genius but very quickly turned into an exercise in showing off some of the Bodleian’s treasures. To be honest it got a little ridiculous:

A Magna Carta of 1217, Newton’s Principia Mathematica, a Gothenburg Bible, Pliny’s Natural History, the watercolour cover Tolkien painted for The Hobbit, Shelley’s draft of Frankenstein, a First Folio, Audobon’s Birds of America, MS Bodley 764, so much more…

It really was just showing off! Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Oxford.